We may have been given a regular-sized season order from AMC this year, but fans of The Walking Dead still have to contend with a mid-season break until February. Fortunately, "Pretty Much Dead Already" was a welcome return to season 2's early form, after a batch of farm-set episodes that started to spin their wheels. I'm a firm believer that a zombie story needs to either be ruthlessly restricted (a cabin, a shopping mall) or a fast-moving "road trip", and The Walking Dead can't really make up its mind. There's nothing wrong with spending time in one location (if only for some respite), but the story has to keep moving in an interesting way, and this season's stopover at the Hershel farm should have had some fat trimmed from its bones.
It was Shane who kicked this episode into top gear towards the end, as he caught sight of Rick helping Hershel drag two fresh walkers into his barn on the end of catch poles. Just as Rick's beginning to compromise with Hershel's demand that the group can stay if they treat walkers like "sick people", Shane makes a grab for leadership by releasing the barn's walkers and cajoling the group into shooting them all dead. In Hershel's eyes, this is nothing less than the genocide of friends and colleagues he believes can be saved; but in Shane's and many other's eyes, it's a necessary extermination to ensure the safety of the living. I'm guessing Shane's going to be calling the shots from now on, as most people are so desperate to stay in the protective bubble of the farm and Hershel's authority has been compromised.
Breaking Bad), and it had a real weight and power to it. The search for Sophia has been one of this season's weakest elements, but I'm very pleased the ending was so strong and emotionally satisfying.
Overall, "Pretty Much Dead Already" was exactly the kind of episode The Walking Dead needs to be delivering more frequently. Maybe the show is doomed to rise and fall, but I'm hoping it finds some kind of comfortable middle ground that's more engaging. After a fantastic start, the story got stuck in a rut after Carl (Chandler Riggs) survived his gunshot wound, and the last few weeks have seen very little progress with anything. This mid-season finale was strong enough to forgive some of those pacing issues, but I hope the second half of the season remembers to keep things rolling. It'll be interesting to see what the second half's like next year, as less of fired Frank Darabont's fingerprints should be detectable.
- I'm not sure about putting Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) together as a romantic couple, but it serves a purpose. Carol's the weakest of the regulars, alongside the grossly underused T-Dog (IronE Singleton), so having her hookup with one of the show's better characters is a win for her. Daryl also benefits from showing a softer side. It just feels a little artificial to me, as I don't really believe Carol would fall for Daryl.
- On the flipside, Maggie and Glenn (Steven Yeun) are really great together and that's a romance I'm enjoying because it's hard to predict where it's headed.